When Denise Harris and her husband bought their home on the west side in 2014, they used their savings and paid in cash. The seller assured them that the property taxes were current, and the house was theirs, free and clear.
However, as happens too often in the city, Denise soon found out that the seller had not been truthful. The property taxes had not been paid for seven years, and the house was at risk for foreclosure. To keep the home, Denise would have to pay thousands of dollars in back taxes and penalties.
Denise worked out a payment plan with the Wayne County Treasurer's Office and began paying installments. Then her family suffered several life challenges. Her father was diagnosed with end-stage cancer, and Denise left her job to care for him. At the same time, her husband's construction work experienced a downturn. And so the couple fell behind on payments to the County.
"The worry we felt about losing our home was a heavy yoke day in and day out," said Denise, 52. "But we are also people of faith, and we kept praying about it and that the Lord would find a way."
Denise feels that her prayers were answered when the Pay As You Stay (PAYS) program was announced earlier this year. PAYS helps Michigan homeowners who have fallen behind on their property taxes stay in their homes. It provides affordable payment plans and eliminates penalties, interest and fees for eligible homeowners. Under PAYS, homeowners pay only their back taxes or 10 percent of the home's taxable value, whichever is less.
To be eligible for PAYS, the homeowner must qualify for the Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP) for the current year. The HPTAP helps low-income households or those experiencing financial hardships by eliminating or reducing their property tax bill for the current year. The deadline to apply this year is December 14.
Denise has been working with Kathy Ralston, Home Preservation Coach at Southwest Solutions, for the past three years to get the HPTAP. After Denise applied this year, Kathy strongly encouraged Denise to apply for PAYS. Denise had owed nearly $8,000 in back taxes.
"When the PAYS letter arrived at our home and I saw how much I owed under the program, I immediately started doing my church dance!" said Denise. "I called my husband and he could hardly believe the news. We both shouted Hallelujah over and over!"
Under her PAYS terms, Denise owed less than $500 to resolve the back taxes. In addition, if Denise made the payment all at once, which she did, she would receive a 10% discount.
"PAYS is a powerful tool to help homeowners remain in their homes and thus to help stabilize neighborhoods in the city," said Southwest Solutions' Kathy Ralston. "Unfortunately, too many homeowners fail to take advantage of HPTAP and PAYS."
A recent report from the Quicken Loans Community Fund shows that nearly 9 of 10 Detroit homeowners in tax delinquency qualify for the HPTAP under the income guidelines. However, more than half are unaware of the exemption, which again is the first step for PAYS.
If you are a Detroit homeowner who owes back taxes and has qualified for the HPTAP, you can easily see what your PAYS options are by checking the Payment Plans page of the Wayne County Treasurer's website.
If you need to apply for the HPTAP, Southwest Solutions is one of the community organizations that can help you. Go to their Home Services page, click the Home Preservation menu, choose "I own and occupy a home in Detroit and need property tax assistance," and then register so we can contact you. Southwest Solutions has already helped about 100 Detroit homeowners qualify for the HPTAP who can now take advantage of PAYS, including Denise.
"I'm so glad that I reached out for help because it has truly changed our life," Denise said. "It was hard just to pay the bills before. But now I have an opportunity to invest in my dream of being an entrepreneur."
Denise has started a soap-making business called Blessed & Natural GGT, and we wish her well in her endeavor.